Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Challenge of a Pakistani Spring

This post was published on Global Policy Institute, London's website as a winner of students' voice in student think tank section on 17 August, 2011. A link to the original post is here.

Many Middle Eastern regimes have fallen due to the recent surge in youth-driven movements for rights and democracy. This change, the so called Arab Spring, is propagating on its own terms. A recent law passed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for punishing those who criticize the regimepoints to restlessness in one of the most conservative states of the world. It is increasingly clear that no regime is now secure from public protests spurred on by recent events.
Pakistanis consider themselves to be very close to Middle East Arab nations, mainly due to their religious connection. In contrast to many Arab states, the Pakistani government has not been able to recognize Israel as a sovereign state due to the fear of public backlash. Such are the sentiments regarding Middle Eastern territorial disputes amongst the Pakistani public. Despite its democratic credentials, is it possible to determine the characteristics of a potential ‘Pakistani Spring’, understood as a popular uprising against the establishment?
Pakistan is a democratic country with an apparently free media and judiciary. These institutions have held power to account on many occasions. But the state of affairs for the general public has become virtually impossible to endure. Sugar was the first of the daily commodities to disappear from the markets, now followed by many other items. Prices are rapidly getting out of reach. Electricity is scarce. Villages, where almost two thirds of the population live, are virtually devoid of electricity for as long as 18-20 hours per day. Natural gas for vehicles is available 3-4 days in a week. People affected by last year’s devastating events are still recovering from their suffering and this year’s monsoon has already started. Higher education projects have come to a halt. Railways have run out of diesel. Pakistan International Airlines has been reporting deficits of billions of rupees every year. Three governors of the State Bank of Pakistan and three finance ministers have been appointed in the last three years. For four months, Pakistan was operating without a foreign minister. This has now changed and Hina Rabbani Khar, who has a diploma in hotel management, has been given control of the foreign ministry. Law and order is deteriorating to a very low level, with people being killed each and every day due to terrorism and gang wars. Pakistan’s ties with the United States of America are at their lowest point in the past decade. The US congress haswithheld part of its military aid to Pakistan as a penalty for a lack of cooperation, further straining both diplomatic relations and the financial state of the country. Pakistan recently scored 12th on a failed states scale around the world. Remember that this is a nuclear state with missile capability and a strong army, intelligence and an entrenched establishment.
If people were to stand up against this state of affairs, what would the popular movement look like? The sitting regime is too fragile in itself to resist any such movement were it to arise. Ever since the American forces’ direct operation in Abbotabad, the security establishment has come under severe criticism from the media. Already, the alliance with US NATO forces was very unpopular with the masses as the decision was taken by a dictator and no public institution was taken into confidence. The scenario becomes complicated here.  Like the Middle East, Pakistan has its share of growing internet users. Social networking has started becoming meaningful to people’s daily lives. Blogs and tweets are the order of the day as journalists and politicians are getting in touch with public opinion through such forums. The same is true with right wing militant organizations. Conspiracy theories about the hidden agenda of western forces are being propagated widely. Pakistan has been under the influence of religious forces ever since its creation though the same clergy opposed its very creation in the beginning. Following the death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, the Objectives Resolution was introduced that laid the foundation for a theocratic state constitution. Successive military regimes used right wing parties to prolong their respective rules which intensified fundamentalist ideas amongst the masses. Zia-ul-Haq’s introduction of discriminatory laws and fanning of extremism took this to a point of no return. Shariah is pronounced to be better than democracy. Many of the masses don’t hesitate to praise the Taliban and their system of governance, including their stance of the women’s education, rights and jihad.
So, if an Arab-like-spring happens in Pakistan and is hijacked by the extremist mindset, there will be no going back for Pakistan as well as the rest of the world. The combination of nuclear capability in a (nearly) failed state is a recipe for disaster. The replication of the Taliban’s model in Afghanistan, equipped with weapons of genocide is clearly unacceptable yet the spectre has arisen nonetheless. Potent attacks on Army headquarters in Rawalpindi and on the Navy’s PNS Mehran in Karachi have raised eyebrows. But is a popular uprising, led by a hardline Islamist agenda, inevitable? No, it is not.
In contrast to the Middle Eastern states, Pakistan is not a monarchy. It is a democracy, albeit a very weak one with a mighty security establishment. If economically stable, Pakistan can fight against all other menaces including terrorism. As the biggest donor to Pakistan, the USA can pressurize Pakistan to hold free and fair elections under international observers and an independent election commission. The USA, by looking beyond its short term goals, can help Pakistan elect its true representatives. Anti-American sentiments can be brought under control if they make their intentions less ambiguous and more fruitful for the people of Pakistan and not a bunch of handpicked obedient politicians.

Khalid Farooq is a PhD student at Université François Rabelais in Tours, France.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Dengue fever has hit Pakistan hard this time. The virus has been there for a couple of years now but this year the number of casualties as well as morbidity has been far more than it was in previous years. The suspected cases report a rapid decline in platelets, the component of blood that helps it coagulate. In the absence or profound decrease of platelets, blood fails to maintain balance of coagulation and bleeding starts from all mucous membranes as well as any minor cuts and bruises on the body. Intestines, mouth and urinary bladder are frequent sites of bleeding. If not countered with an adequate measure, either by replacing platelets or by a therapy which increase their numbers, mortality occurs frequently.

Cases have been reported in media and public where people have benefited from use of juice of papaya leaves. I came across such a story in The Express Tribune where a man has recounted his brush with the deadly virus and its consequences. I went on to search PubMed for any scientific evidence of his recount and found out that animal studies suggest the same for decrease in platelet count. This is an amazing therapy which should be widely circulated, shared and made public so that maximum number of people can benefit from this deadly disease. I tweeted to Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif as well. Hope the authorities take it into account and help people survive.

Other useful ways are, of course, trying to eliminate mosquitoes, their habitat, early report to hospitals in case of fever, bruising and malaise. Healthy people should actively donate blood so that platelets can be provided to the sick.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The curious case of Dr Zulfiqar Mirza

Dr Mirza’s sudden outburst in anger has taken everyone by surprise. Despite his previous outburst in media and public against some party policies, he was known as a close aide of president Zardari. Many believe that his loyalty may always be with his party, he has run out of patience by the policy of national reconciliation adopted by his party’s bosses in the center. Others still doubt any depth behind his allegations and think that his impulsive nature is being expertly exploited by the party administration, and knowingly or unknowingly he is playing the bad cop for them, providing them with space to bargain with their coalition partners in Karachi. Despite these different views amongst public and analysts, everyone has started to believe that he means some kind of business.

His press conferences raise questions, some of individual and others of national concern.  By far the most important amongst all of them is the alleged plot to break Pakistan. He categorically referred it to MQM Chief Altaf Hussain, whom he quoted as saying that he was on board with such a plan. Although dominated by political motives, his press conference has seriously challenged certain elements of the state policy from security point of view.

Other allegations largely circulate around his differences with his party over the policy of political reconciliation with none other than MQM and Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s interference in the provincial matters. Still others include alleging MQM of various malpractices at individual and party levels and of their narrow vision of the state of Pakistan.

As I stated earlier, the most important of these revealations is the one that concerns the security of the sate. Such voices have been raised in US media previously. In 2008, the then PMLQ senator Nisar Memon highlighted  a research report by Prof Michel Chossudovsky of Global Research (Canada) which stated a plan to bring political unrest to the country. Although Dr Mirza has once again brought the issue into limelight, his credibility to make such statements carries lots of question marks.

Dr Mirza talked of himself once he spoke in Nodero, probably in a bid to praise the statesmanship of Mr Zardari, that he (Dr Mirza) had thought of breaking Pakistan on the eve of murder of ex premier of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto. According to him, it was the political vision of Mr Zardari that guided him not to think in any such extremes. Had it not been so, something must have had happened to the country by now. Now that he has blamed MQM chief of being part of a similar conspiracy, do we take it as good as Dr Mirza's own sentiments about the state, those of betrayal and anger or something even worse. Ironically though, nothing of this nature was revealed in wikileaks Pakistan Papers, published by DAWN. Lastly, the way he described Altaf Hussain sharing his thoughts with Dr Mirza while asking his own party members to excuse them is quite unnatural. So his controversial statement raises more questions than it answers, like  would he shed a bit of light on the 'US' side of the story too? Is his party chief and country's president aware of this? Does the security apparatus of Pakistan possess knowledge of this? And if so, did the establishment supported coalition in the center take any high level notice of such advancements?

Although Dr Mirza tried his best to make people believe that he is speaking truth, his previous emotional outbursts of this nature and subsequent apologies are still fresh in people’s memories. His repeated commitment of unconditional loyalty to Mr Zardari also questions his claims as he is potentially alleging his party of some kind of negligence in handling law and order situation of country's economic hub. Between the lines, his resignation shows his dissatisfaction and frustration about entertainment of his opinion by the party. How justified is unconditional loyalty then is? How truthful his allegations can be then? But a more important thing is the political fallout of this move on national scene. Would he be able to stand by his allegations if SC asks him to do so? What if a judicial probe becomes inevitable? Would it threaten the regime? Would Dr Mirza get support from other unhappy members of the party against party policies? Apparently, he seems to bite the dust in near future and status quo will prevail. But he surely has put both PPP and MQM on back foot by raising such allegations. Fingers crossed for the unpredictable politics of Pakistan though.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Listening to the ultimate messiah

Few days back one of my friends posted a video on my facebook page in which a person advertises his amazing disease healing skills. You can see a screen shot from the video on the right side. My friend posted this video thinking that I being a doctor am the most concerned person regarding the contents. Of course I am, but people living around healing facility of this gentleman are more concerned than me. And even more concerned, rather responsible are the authorities. I was practically shocked to see the video. A person who apparently can’t speak Urdu for more than few seconds, goes on to claim that he can treat any disease that a human being can come up with. Standing behind an advertisement board carrying all his medical credentials, he goes on to give a sermon about his magical abilities to cure. Without any clue regarding the contents of his treatment regimes, he proclaims to heal everything that brings worry to us. Health authorities and medical council of the country seems to see the other way I guess.

The written content is translated here.

Dr Abdul Majeed. Majeed Hospital
Cellular mobile number omitted purposefully
Diploma in Medicine and Practice in Surgery
Registered (with) Government (of)Punjab, Health Authorties, File 763
Faisalabad Health Authorties File No 01
Experience in Medical Practice 40 years
Address, omitted purposefully

The spoken contents of the video are summarized here.

In the name of Allah, the beneficient, the merciful. Assalamo Alaikum. I, Dr Abdul Majeed, treat all types of pain, whatever part of the body it is in. With the grace of God, patient says he is alright within 5-7 minutes. Be it knees, ankles, backbone, kidneys or even heart that aches, or even it is beats (palpitates), I treat all of them. Similarly all types of diseases like sozak hemorrhoids or even persistent hiccups, or even if one feels heat, I can treat all of these diseases within 5-7 minutes. By the grace of God, when I ask the patient after 5-7 minutes if he feels sick, he says no, I am feeling better. This is feedback of my patients which has encouraged me to speak (advertize).  Allergy of eyes (conjunctivitis perhaps) is a illness where doctors change the eye drops  every now and then. I can heal it in a span of few minutes. If the eye hole is blocked, and hasn’t been cured after unlimited treatment, give me 3 days and it will be open after three days. Apart from this, if one cannot speak fluently, I treat this whereas no one in the whole country treats this. And that too within 10 minutes, patient starts speaking normally. I never recommend any dietary restriction whatever type of allergy, asthma or high blood pressure is there. These are all blessings of God. One shouldn’t restrict anything. No one can treat hepatitis faster than me. No one has the knowledge of this disease better than me. All types of fever are cured within 24 hours. I have 40 years experience of medical practice. Cough and flu, skin diseases and hundreds of other disorders are treated so quickly that I myself am amazed. If I was like others, I would have had been silenced years ago. It has been four years since I am educating you, that whosoever is sick should come to me and get the benefit. Anything that is not cured by these doctors, specialists, hakeems or faith healers should be brought to me. I will cure it in few minutes. First I cure the patient and then ask how long he or she wants to take medicine for. Whosoever has come to me for 5 or 6 times can never be sick again. Timing of my availability is during the day. Address described and omitted purposefully.
This video speaks volumes about the state of health affaires in our country. This person has been running a clinic for last 40 years in the third largest city of Pakistan. He is running an advertisement campaign to recruit patients too. While the contents and claims of this video can be refuted and proven wrong by scientific evidence, it speaks more about the ignorance and attitude at basic level of our society.  The credentials that he is claiming do not even exist. And he got all that 40 years back, when there was no mention of hepatitis at all. And no one, virtually no one living around him is educated enough to know that he is playing with people’s lives. Take for example his generalization of pain, whether it is in knees, ankles, kidneys or heart, it can be treated. Pain in all these places cannot be generalized as knees are sore in inflammation but a cardiac pain can be a fatal heart attack. Similarly the closure of hole of eye just doesn’t mean anything other than maltreating any potentially dangerous disease which will eventually result in blindness.
Quacks like him are successfully practicing in cities, towns and villages, competing with registered medical practitioners only to bring a qualified doctor’s practice to a lower level. When such people will be allowed to “educate” others so openly, how can we expect to eradicate diseases and improve general health standards of our society?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Mobile Journey: Nokia 8310 to Samsung Galaxy S2

Remembring the good old days when I had nokia 8310.....
was my 3rd July 2011 facebook status update. The comments and rappels that followed made me write this post, perhaps to preserve these precious memories.
I remember the days of Government College Sargodha when my only tele-communication with the world was through the landline telephone which was installed at the reception of the hostel. Apart from that, I used to have exchange of hand written letters with a couple of friends. I carried letter writing into my next phase of life, the medical college. In the period between the two, my mailing address used to be Syed and Sons Sillanwali. It was the same Government College Sargodha where I saw a cellular phone for the first time, with my friend Asad. I remember how naïve I was about its mechanism of working and functional limitations. In medical college, Saudi students with mobile phones were so well known that one of them got a title "mobile guy" on our first class function. Due to expensive incoming and outgoing call rates, this luxury was still out of everyone’s pocket. A similar landline telephone provided at the medical college hostel served the purpose of communication with my family and other private stuff. My father had to travel to a nearby town to call me on weekends, at a rate of PKR 25/minute. Moving to Rawalpindi happened at a time when we started hearing about the launch of a cheaper mobile service, with the name of ufon. The first and foremost attraction was free incoming calls and free short messaging service. In the beginning though, even purchasing a sim card of ufon was labeled as an achievement as there used to be long ques outside its sale centers whenever the sale of SIM cards used to open.
I remember I bought my first GSM mobile SIM card from ufon, through a friend who had a contact in a regional service center. Reason behind choosing ufon was none other than that it was state owned agency and I believed I was serving my country by choosing it Those were the good old days #patriotic. I later switched to a Jazz number, not being a traitor but because Jazz spread its service to my home village area and I had to join others in the family.
First ever GSM mobile handset that I happened to use was Nokia 8310. Released at time when color display was not yet marketed, it carried some extraordinary features like GPRS, FM radio, voice and in-call recording and an elegant crystal display. I chatted with my friends on messenger using gprs. Although it was a second hand set, its battery lasted for 3 days after first charging, secret was that I didn’t receive any calls during those three days #literary joke. It stayed with me till its display was damaged. Still I was able to re-sell it to a fellow who, except displeasing me with his finding of some private call recordings in the set, never complained about the performance of the set. Those were the good old days.
Daily afternoon visit to Commercial Market Rawalpindi kept me and my friends updated about all the latest releases of handsets. Soon the markets were flooded with polyphonic ringtones and quickly after that color display enabled cellular phones. I quickly changed few sets, including a Sony Ericsson J210, Nokia 3500, and then again a Sony Ericsson handset, this time K608i. This one was exclusive in having a 1.3 MP camera and a better music playing than I ever had. Thanks to the camera, I kept it in use until it was completely worn out, color faded, software crashed, and photos, memories and people associated with those memories were no more. I cherish that handset a lot, mainly due to the photographs I took with it. There are some jokes associated with its diverse ringtones ringing at inappropriate times. But at the boom of mobile business, such events happened to everyone. Those were the good old days.
I still have that fateful handset in my property it has lost much of its value thanks to smart cellular phones made available recently. I bought a BlackBerry Pearl when I came in France. My inability to understand it resulted in my disliking towards the phone and I moved to windows enabled Acer X960 tempo. I was a bit late in purchasing that one as technology had moved on. Google had launched android operating system and market was overflowing with new generation handsets. I remember I covered my trip to Limoges (France) with that Acer handset camera.
Next was android OS Motorolla Dext with MotoBlur, my maiden android set. It was gifted by a friend of mine. It gave me quite a liberty to use facebook and twitter on the go. I switched back to same Acer and remained contented till my contract with my service provider expired and I was able to benefit from an offer by another one. So I bought my current handset, Samsung Galaxy S2, with the awesome latest version of android OS and a massive 1.2 GHz processor. Communication, games, photography, editing and what not, it is a pleasure to have this machine. With Google+ and other awesome applications, it keeps its magic alive. Although I haven’t been able to benefit from its high tech OS and hardware, I feel myself like tapping my heels all the time. For a moment, it just makes me forget the awful things around, submitting myself to the galaxy that it is. Still I wonder how I managed to write all this down after so much time. But a more amazing thing is how you managed to read it till down here. So, here is the sweet reward, an interesting ad of Samsung Galaxy S2. Enjoy and share your experience of handsets down in the comments....

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Afridi has a good chance to be a politician

Shahid Khan Afridi has announced conditioned retirement from international cricket. He is unhappy with the treatment that he has been given as captain. He has every reason to feel angry as his performance as a captain has been more than expected. Although not an extraordinary manipulator of the game, luck had been on his side in one day internationals recently. He has led the team with passion and that speaks volumes about his leadership skills. As far as intelligent strategic moves are concerned once team lands in the ground to play, I wouldn’t rate him as one of the best captains of Pakistan. But still he has been making us feel proud, happy and sometimes furious at him with crickentainment over the years. Alas, he has met the same fate as many of our heroes did previously. But, is that the end? I think NO.

Afridi is kind of a person who has always listened to his heart. I believe his career is far from over. There are no quick chances of a reshuffle in Pakistan Cricket Board as the chairman is thought to be very close to President. So instead of waiting for those chances or to play more cricket and hope for no objection certificates, he should announce his debut to national politics. Whether or not he joins Imran Khan, he will be a hot fellow in national politics and his presence will give youth a lot of hope for their future. As he has already said that he plays for his country and his people, I have already smelled the politician inside him. Pakistanis are great fans of cricket and I have seen no one who is happy with Ijaz Butt. A principal stand on this issue can give lala a big political mileage, particularly against a PPP candidate. I would love to see him coming to active politics.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the young and courageous politician Mr. Shahid Khan Afridi. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Good bye OBL

Conspiracy theories aside, OBL is dead now. A chapter closed in history of the world. Keeping indifference to his good qualities or bad characteristics, he was the one who remained America’s most wanted person for nearly a decade. Perhaps the biggest operation in history of the world was carried out for his hunt. And more than that, thousands of people were killed, virtually thousands of innocent people, accounting for his deeds. Some dies in collateral damage in pursuit to get him, others killed by his fellows because they seemed to have deviated from the right path. Both categories include men women and children.
People of Abbotabad found it funny to come to know that world’s most wanted man was living just on their doorstep. Some might have regretted not to have attempted to capture him as he carried biggest head bounty in the recent times. Others remained indifferent as public in our country is custom made not to believe what is told in official statements. Although it has been running on the news channels across the world, very few people in Pakistan believed on the truthfulness of the fine details made public. Many think he must have been captured elsewhere some other time and this drama was tailored in order to maximize benefit from this happening of extraordinary caliber, like winning next US presidential elections, getting an excuse to withdraw forces from Afghanistan etc. But as I said in the beginning, let us put the conspiracy theories aside at the moment. One thing is for sure. OBL is dead now.
His rise to fame amongst Muslim ummah was understandable. Dispersed and humiliated under a fleet of autocrat corrupt regimes, Muslims around the world were looking for a leader. The quest was so long and severe that an ideal leader started being imagined as a superhuman being. They awaited someone who could turn the tide in their favor, liberate their lands from foreign occupation and re-establish their respect in the comity of nations. Unfortunately, most of the times this desire was more like a fantasy. I say this because very little number of movements took course of political changes, human rights, education and science and technology. Mostly, the attitudes remained impractical and fantastical, waiting for charismas to happen. The fact remains there that if you are left behind in education and building of institutions, you have to improve your level of education and build institutions at a faster pace in order to maintain your existence. There are no short cuts at this level.
To me, the summary of his lifetime efforts to serve religion is that he played havoc with the same instead of serving it. Countries and societies suffered as a whole when his personal violent ideas spread among masses. Religious intolerance and sectarian bloodshed in Pakistan can very well be attributed to the ideas he financed. But did all this serve the religion or ummah? This is a solid reality that image of Islam has become that of a violent and intolerant religion all over the world. Insecurity and humiliation are order of the day for Muslims globally. It is widely believed that although all Muslims are not terrorists, all terrorists are Muslims indeed. Apart from radicalizing a large segment of Muslims around the world, he didn’t serve any purpose. And that even is more than controversial if we call it an achievement.
When seen in the context of Sayyid Qutb’s ideas of reforming societies, what OBL did becomes understandable. Unfortunately one’s personal belief of being on the right path and declaring all others as infidels doesn’t practically make it a fruitful strategy. Irony is that even his death doesn’t necessarily mean that this thinking will be changed. If it persisted after the execution of the father of this thought, it will definitely exist after losing a sponsor.  It will further radicalize the groups under his influence. His legacy will take a lot of time to fade. And that can only happen if large segments of Muslims realize that the path he took was not the best among available ones.
So, does it end here? NO. Neither America nor the militants will give up. Strategic benefits wouldn’t allow USA to give up the bloodshed and it will continue to feed the extremist ideology for decades to come. I wish OBL would have taken a path of scientific progress for people. I wish he would have been practical in approach, that there are no short cuts in becoming a great nation. I wish he would have planned for a thousand peaceful years to bring the change he wanted instead of trying to impose it in a couple of decades. But all this is just fantasy, just like wishing that his termination should bring an end to the bloodbath in my country. It is just like wishing that USA should stop killing innocent people and let them get back to norms and tolerance. I know it is useless but I still wish there should be wars against disabilities and diseases and not against nations and countries. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Life without Mastana and Babbu Bral

To many it is not even a news. Two well known comedians of Pakistan passed away this month. Although both of them focused on Punjabi stage plays based in Lahore, however, they earned quite some audience in the whole country by their performance on national television as well as in Urdu films. Well, everyone had to die someday. And it was their turn this time. That cannot be argued with. But the circumstances that they faced were really scary, and in one way, a reflection of where we are heading as a society.
In addition to their  memorable performances on national television and films, I, being native to the language dialect that was not very far from the one spoken on stage, had known both of them since long, although just as a fan. Immensely talented and spontaneous, they were born artists. Live performance on stage used to bring the stage alive.
Jugat bazi, the essence of Punjabi stage play, is actually a very well known local tradition. People talk to each other mentioning things in lighter tones, sometime funny, other times cunning and still other times vulgar and insulting too. Film and stage being the mainstay of entertainment in this part of the world, had a reflection of this all the time. Films used to be romantic love stories featuring a couple struggling to unite. A must to be character used to be that of comedian to make it a full entertaining recipe. Gradually, decency and pure entertainment was replaced by vulgar and cheap jokes, songs and remarks. Still, the artist cannot be blamed for this. It is the audience which is to blame for the lowering the level of the dialogues.

I remember the first stage play that I saw was with my best friend Zohaib Syed, on a video cassette. It was Shertiyah Mithay, featuring Khalid Abbas Dar, Sohail Ahmad, Amanullah, Abid Khan and late Babbu Bral. It was a piece of art. I still cherish the pleasure and entertainment that I felt after watching the drama. I had known them since childhood by their appearances on Eid programmes, one man, shows and sitcoms. So I enjoyed thoroughly.

Later, I saw performance of late Mastana in various stage plays. An artist of a unique character, he never let his audience and fans down. Impromptu and naughty, his remarks always carried a sense of criticism of the hollow traditions and snobbery of the people. He worked with majority of the great actors and actresses of the television and stage and earned great respect for his humbleness and down to earth nature.

Both of them died due to complications of hepatitis and diabetes, at an age where they should have been on top of their career. They could have groomed into national legends and would have ruled the theatre and televisions for at least two more decades. It is heartening to remember the unforgettable performance of late Babbu Bral in Indian idol. Artists are the binding force of a society. They hold different people together by their performance and they uncover the social maladies in such a way that it touches the heart. A two hours performance live on stage can take days and weeks to prepare. They worked untiringly to make the people happy. I came to know that, surprisingly, both of them were performing when someone close from the family departed. Yet they continued their performance so that the audience doesn’t feel bad that they left. I wish we commit ourselves to set better examples for those heroes and legends that are still with us. By doing so, we might save them from the painful anticipation of their career finish.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Young Doctors on Strike: A letter to Syed Talat HUSSAIN

Dear Syed Talat HUSSAIN

Morality is a relative term. Being kind can be relative to other people’s behavior. Doctors going on strike looks like ridiculous. But if seen in a context, it might look a bit more than that. Let’s have a closer look.

The strike call by young doctors might look like an over-reacted even to many but the fact is that it has been brewing up for quite some time. Since nobody paid attention to it, it has resulted in an anarchic situation where doctors have gone on strike and people are suffering or dying unattended.

Following points are stated for your kind attention.

  • Health system, as you noted in your discussion other day, is one of the most neglected sector in terms of financial and administrative terms, in whole of the country. On one side, it look like a department which is not funded properly. On the other side, which might not be visible to many, is that it has virtually collapsed under the rush of patients that visit the existing health care facilities daily. Literally speaking, no new health institutions have been developed in the country for decades and population goes on increasing. Result is over work in the outpatient as well as inpatient departments and poor health delivery.
  • Government hospitals are out of medicine and every other thing that is needed to carry out procedures. Funds are already inadequate. Those that are given, go to corrupt administration of hospitals. Administration is corrupt, and reason behind that is that they are politically appointed. Every party has to bless their sympathizers, so they are appointed and given free hands.
  • The disparity of power between a doctor working in the outdoor or emergency and a medical superintendent gravely affects the morale of young doctors. Doctor on duty has no authority to buy even a single thread or needle at the expense of government, yet he has to face the wrath of attendants and public when he runs out of even syringes. Public doesn’t know this reality and they think the on duty doctor has stolen all the stuff or has smuggled to his clinic. So they pass a verdict and carry out the sentence, then and there. Every other day we hear that a doctor was beaten by angry attendants on account of negligence. Many of the times, the negligence is on the part of administration and not the working doctor. But the administration sits in air conditioned rooms and medical officers face the public. I think you must highlight this issue, at least once in your programme that clinical doctors should be given a say in the financial affairs of the hospital and should have some authority, particularly those who are under training.
  • In all standard operating procedure manuals, it is stated that no procedure will be carried out in the presence of relatives or attendants of the patients. Yet in our public sector hospitals, there is nothing of that kind which can keep away the attendants even during critical procedures. That creates situation for the doctor where he is at their risk. Indifferent to the nature of disease or injury, if the patient doesn’t survive, white collars of doctors are colored gray and face colored red with slaps.
  • During all those years that I have spent in medical college as a student, house officer, medical officer and lastly as a lecturer, we have always been sharing such experiences and showing frustration at the state of affairs. For doctors, it might only be a matter of security sometime, but for public, it is a matter of life and death. But no one asks the regime about this problem. And why would they ask when doctor is so easily available for accountability.
  • The lack of initiative at government’s behalf to create new institutions and jobs have forced thousands of doctors to move out of country, in search of better future, in pursuit of happiness. This has created an even worse situation for the country. But then again, who cares. An interesting point in this regard is here to come, although it might not please lots of my fraternity. To go abroad for a better job, a lot of investment is needed. Appearing in licensing exams of USA, UK and Australia is worth half to one million Pakistani Rupees. The interesting thing is that, those who have this investment to make, make it and go out. Those who can’t are left behind to do fellowship locally. As I said earlier, most of them come from poor families, and have struggled to become doctors, thinking that once they will become one, life will be easy for them and their families. This gives rise to financial strains, that a person with weaker resources is forced to stay here, on low salary and bad working conditions. This particular lot of doctors is kept so much hand to mouth that they can’t even marry during their years of training. And that takes them into thirties. Hearing from friends abroad and facing constrains from family fuels the flame of frustration, has been doing the same for many years, now the lava is out in street. Without any hesitation, I proclaim that I am a prime example of this group of unfortunate doctors.
  • Doctors had an association of their own, called Pakistan Medical Association. What can you think about a possible reason for the birth of Young Doctors’ Association? Like every other institution in this country, PMA has also been non-responsive to ground realities of young doctors. Dissatisfied with the status quo, they decided to go for the action on their own.
  • Morality is a relative term. Being kind can be relative to other people’s behavior. Doctors going on strike looks like ridiculous. But let me ask you one simple question. Why didn’t you call these boys in your studio the day they went on strike? Why did you call them after 35 days on closure? The reason is apathy. In our country, unless something goes to a critical level, doesn’t get enough attention. Media people kept on mocking the young medics on street and government didn’t listen to them, so they had to go to that limit of closing emergency. You invite innocent boys and grill them on your show about their mistake. Why don’t you ask the regime to listen to their demands? They can spare billions for the pay of soldiers, which are doubles over nights, and to pay to UN commission for carrying out a silly investigation but you can’t feed those whom you have hired to treat your masses? Why don’t you ask Nawaz Sharif the reason for getting treatment in UK?
  • Treating the sick is not a duty of doctors, and I repeat it, it is not the duty of a doctor to treat a sick person. It is duty of the government to get them treated. Doctors are simply hired for the job. If they are hired and not paid for the same, they have every right to protest. And during that protest, if a person does on street, the responsible is he who collects the tax, and not those who are being screwed in the name of politics.
  • The over smart chief minister has handled this matter really badly. And I tell you Talat, these politicians are still unaware of the trends of 21st century. Being hostile to your youth, and honestly speaking, cream of your youth, people who are thought to be noble, will play havoc with this country. Already we are on a path to anarchy. Please ask this regime to handle this matter carefully and satisfy the demands of doctors at earliest.
  • I heard you asked young doctors other day that they never asked for an increase in health budget. You need to understand that they are not visionary or decision makers of the health system. They are reacting to a situation where they found no other option but to protest. Thinking about the size of health budget or putting it in the basic rights of the masses is the job of legislators, and yours too. It is not the duty of young or old doctors to do this. They have bad working condition, hostility, financial problems and psychological trauma and frustration, and you are asking them about their vision about health system. Have mercy on them and have mercy on poor people who are suffering in vain. Or let them suffer; just tell them straight away who is the responsible for all this, the tax collector.
  • What a medical graduate starts earning after five years of studies, is paid to the fresh entry of medical cadets in army medical college. I don’t know whether you can feel the factors that must have led them to go to streets. And if you can, just try to feel how determined they must be to change this. They don’t have anything to lose. They were in worse conditions, and will stay in worse conditions whatever happens. The government is stupid if they think that they can refuse practice license to doctors on this account. Help them to wake up.
  • I am a runaway doctor myself. All that I described is partly my own understanding of the situation, my own options and my own limitations. People must have other reasons to stay back in Pakistan too. But I stated what I thought was common amongst many. Now I am an HEC scholar, doing PhD in France. I request you to set your morality levels once again as I am preparing myself to find some innovative way to protest, once HEC is dissolved and I am out of money. Please don’t ask me to be rational when you invite me to your show. Ask the regime to be rational instead.
I am grateful if you read my letter down to these lines. For all practical purposes, you can use my email address.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

10 things Imran Khan needs to do NOW!!!

Next general elections are no more out of sight in Pakistan. One and the only clean politician and famous philanthropist in our country, Imran Khan, needs to move the masses. This is high time for him to appear on national scene as a true alternative. Thanks to his naïve ways of politics, he seems far away from sweeping the national election this time. But that can be made possible if he listens to some advice.

1. The impact of internet, especially social networks like Facebook and Twitter has shown its potential in last US presidential election as well as recent Middle East uprisings of Tunisia, Egypt and others. Imran Khan must come in close touch with the youth through Twitter and Facebook where he can convey his message in real time and gather feedback.
2. A talent hunt for candidates should be started now. Or if he has already chosen few people, they should be announced now. They should be asked to appear on their respective constituency’s skyline and should try to convey Imran Khan’s vision to the people.
3. Penetration into people’s minds and hearts can only be realized if they are reached at personal levels. Symbolic visits to flood affected people in person can win a lot of respect for him. Mobilizing aid is one thing. Tagging his message with aid and exploiting it to a maximum possible level is another thing.
4. A connection between the person of Imran Khan and people he wants to represents is not there. He seems to be fooled by clever people around who fail to seduce mainstream parties for electoral tickets and fell on him. He is different from the lot and should hunt totally uncorrupt leaders for people’s representation.
5. An effective media campaign should be made instead of complaining that talk shows don’t invite representatives from his party.
6. The political stance of his political party is usually what he personally thinks. A council of representatives should be established which should state the party position on various issues. A platform like Bilawal House, Nine Zero and Mansoorah should be a part of people’s memory when they listen to his party’s statement.
7. Monetary policy should be made clear along with the person would-be in-charge in future if he makes it to certain political success in near future. A mere mention of coal reserves and oil and gas bulks will not do the job.
8. A slogan is an ultimate winner in countries like ours. A passionate slogan should be formulated, even if he has to hire psychologists and journalists for the job.
9. A better speech writer will be a great gain.
10. Jamshed Dasti is a great example for looking into our people’s mind. If you dedicate yourself to represent them, you should know what they are made up of. An intelligent approach to handle them will be a success and nothing else.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Let's get some inspiration from Egypt

In the age of twitter and facebook, witnessing a regime change in Egypt looked quite awesome. In fact I was quite lost into its final hours, stuck to live transmissions of BBC and Aljazeera, following people tweeting live from Tahrir Square and reading Cyril Almeida’s nice analysis in Dawn on regular basis. The history unfolded before my wide open eyes. It was unbelievable. Although I expected bloodshed many times in the last week, I kept my hopes high and wished the people a win.  More so because it was a led by Egyptian youth, using the social network forums to organize protest against the sitting president. Although Hosni Mubarak had been a favorite of Europe and US, he could no longer keep his hold on the government and had to surrender to the will of masses. Internet has started bringing meanings to people’s lives and now we can expect almost anything happening anywhere in the world. So is the potential of this technology.
For a true democracy in Egypt, there is a long way to go. Although I am not a very informed person about state of political affaires there in but I know from repeated though short lived episodes of army rule in my own country what catastrophic leadership vacuum does it create. Although we were able to make our dictators run away every time they came close to a decade, the establishment has maintained its strength on various internal and external policies of the country throughout its 60 years of existence. Handpicked politicians were planted every time to dilute people’s sentiments and they served their purpose. They kept the real leadership out of scene and paved ways for next coup d’état. So I can very well imagine what kind leadership crisis the Egyptians must be facing. Though impressively organized and peaceful throughout 18 days of protest in Tahrir Square and elsewhere, they are yet to have a political leader who can represent them in a true sense.
Egypt after Tunisia, what should we expect next? Middle East has long been run by monarchies. Whatever I heard in my childhood about regimes in Middle East remained amazingly same till the first decade of this century. Muammer Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, and the Saudi family had become a synonym of the government in the region. Mr Mobarak has gone and the wave of change seems to be self propagating. Already few of the elite in nearby countries have pledged to give up oppression and have promised to turn to reforms and democracy. Others are still turning a blind eye to the changing scenarios. But that has been the way of dictators. Gaddafi has been there for 40 years and even now, he is unable to see a potential revolt that can arise in his country if he doesn’t give up the dictatorship. Saudis, as people say, have a large family and wealth. They say that every three Saudis comprise of a prince, a government spy and a woman. So a revolution towards a democracy is almost impossible. Moreover, they are very well known for their lethal attitude towards differences of opinion that arises anywhere. But I don’t conclude it there. I can see a wave of reforms in almost all Middle Eastern monarchies in less than a decade, although some of them may involve a lot of bloodshed.
So what will be the effect of this change on our part of the world? Fortunately or unfortunately, we are not choked like Egyptians. We are not being run under the auspices of emergency rule. We have free media and although overshadowed by the blue-eyed boys of the establishment, a running democratic system. So, I would rather say that we are different from them (the Egyptians, Tunisians). Similarly we have different problems. Thanks to free media and a vibrant middle class that we were able to force our last dictator to lift emergency in a matter of days and even to get him out. Although a democratic set up came into being after 2008 elections, it took a couple of years to reinstate the sacked judges of superior courts who were the reason of imposition of the emergency rule. This is where I conclude that although the dictator had run away, the establishment still had a strong say in the political decisions being taken in the country.
Egyptians might have to wait what we are waiting for since a long time, the true leadership which is representative of people literally. We face a famine of honest politicians. Right now we are being governed by feudal, families in which even the political parties are inherited. Some of them seem to have turned against the establishment that once facilitated their rise to power. Still there is a long way to go where we will be able to equate an anti-establishment person as a pro-people one. But that is not the only problem. People are unaware of the power of vote too. They sell it too cheaply and believe that sufferings might be their fate. They need to be told that reality is not that. They need to be given a hope. But who can give them all that?
Among all the darkness of a corrupt political system being nurtured by a visionless establishment and taken hostage by religious fundamentalists, there is an honest and truthful person who has devoted his life for his people. He believes in the power of youth and always looks forward to exploit it in order to make a difference. Although he hasn’t won much electoral appreciation in this illiterate, nepotistic and pretentious society, I am looking forward to see potential of our youth in the light of inspiration from Egypt. Imran Khan is the only ray of hope right now. May be that we need to upgrade to a better level of social networking to enjoy such fruits of it? Let’s hope for the best.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Lahore shootout. How long it can and should go?

The killing of three people by an American citizen in capital city of Punjab, Pakistan is indeed a shocking incident. The man in question alleged that he acted in self defense and the guys were decoits who wanted to rob him of the freshly withdrawn money from an ATM.  However, the postmortem examination report belies his saying by stating that the killed were fired upon from behind. Revelations of the use of forbidden bullets and an allegedly weapon without a valid license has further complicated the situation.  Equally shocking is the demand by American embassy for his immediate release, saying that he enjoys the diplomatic immunity. According to the newspapers, however, he is on a business visa and was not there on a diplomatic duty neither did he had a diplomatic escort with him. So, what was he doing there? Complicated, isn’t it?
How far will it go? Pakistan has so far shrugged off any request (read: pressure) for his immediate release. And it would be quite unwise even if the government makes its mind up for the same. The anti American sentiments are high at this time and religio-political parties will take it as a blessing in disguise as for the upcoming (midterm?) elections. American statement is unwise too as they should keep their own image in mind while putting any such pressure. Already people are angry over daily killings by American drones in the North West.
So, in my view, the judicial process will take its course as no politician can afford to please America on the cost of his own life or career. However, at some point in the future, government will have to back down under the American pressure that will be raised to a level in coming days or weeks. A symbolic bargain can very well satisfy the public here in Pakistan. If America asks for a presidential pardon for their citizen, a similar demand can be forwarded for Dr Siddiqui too, who was given 86 years of prison although she hadn’t killed anyone at all. A one sided presidential pardon to the American gunman by Pakistan would be an injustice as well as a political disaster for the ruling coalition.
Worse? Can Pakistan refuse to American demands and go for carrying out whatever sentence the court hands down to the gunman? This is not possibility even if the black warrants are issued when JI has won the next election by 2/3rd majority in center and provinces and an endless goldmine is discovered right below Mansoora.  Besides this, how long a country can go for 3 of their citizens when hundreds have been killed extra-judicially, both by American drones and terrorists. After all it is Musharraf’s Pakistan.

Friday, January 28, 2011

2011: Hopes alive !

Keeping a balance between ideals, hopes and ground realities, a beautiful 2011 can be like this.

  • Peace and Democracy in Tunisia and rest of Middle East
  • Advances in Palestine Israel peace process
  • Good performance of Pakistan in ICC world cup 2011
  • Resumption of International Cricket in Pakistan
  • Start of withdrawal of western forces from Afghanistan
  • End to extrajudicial killings by American drone attacks in Pakistan
  • Break in the recent wave of terrorism inside Pakistan
  • Break in ongoing inflation in Pakistan
  • Successful rehabilitation of flood affectees in Pakistan
  • No more events of killings of civillians all around the world
  • Resumption of HEC Foreign Scholarships
  • Resumption of peace process between Pakistan and India
  • International honors for my researcher friends
  • Publishing results of my first experiment :)

         and last but not the least

  • My family's visit of France this summer :)

Addition in the form of comments will be appreciated.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Broad spectrum Third Generation Pakistanis

Theoretically speaking, a generation spans over 30 years. So if we take the moment of the making of Pakistan as middle of the then generation, the first generation lasted till 1962, overshadowed by the opportunist element taking over the state. Second generation (1962-1992) is highlighted by 1964 and 1971 wars with India, fall of Dhaka, Bhutto’s judicial murder and General Zia’s version of Islam and Jihad. Summary of the third generation can be attaining a nuclear state status, 9/11, Musharraf’s enlightened moderation and lately the fallout of US led war on terror against Taliban. They are the ones who led Pakistan into new century. Like third generation of antibiotics, present Pakistanis are different from their predecessors in many respects. They are numerous, poorer, divided, intolerant, superstitious, frustrated, pretentious and isolated in comparison to the previous generations. I might have missed the achievements of this generation here but there is a reason for that too. First, our negatives surpass our positives, both in quantity and quality. Secondly, I am here to criticize the negative characters mentioned above. Although all of these characteristic properties can be elaborated one by one, I would like to stick to the pretentiousness and intolerance for this entry which has dominated the last few years of this fateful generation.

Many of us who attained physical maturity and economic liberty around the start of 21st century were either born or brought up in the Zia era and are undoubtedly influenced by the dictator’s national policies and his version of religion. The elders who constitute the top brass of politics, bureaucracy and military were mostly born when East and West Pakistan were together. Although shaken by 1971 split, the Pakistani society was nurturing a rightward swing even before the dictator took over, which is obvious from the religious inclusions of 1973 constitution. Zia was just an opportunist who identified the pulse of masses and benefitted from the richness of medium by adopting an Islamic reformer’s identity although we can very well appreciate that his policies of Islamization were meant for prolongation of his rule only. Eleven visionless years of rule changed the whole character of the nation and there during all those dark times, were the kids of future generations, playing in the streets, reading the recently modified texts of Jihad, seeing people being recruited for the holy war in Afghanistan, unaware of the words like democracy and power of vote, misinformed about their past and unsure of their future.

Children influenced by Zia’s philosophy of religion and state have come of voting age now and will take over the country’s leadership in a decade. But their representation at different levels has already begun to manifest. Education and sports have been badly affected by corruption while violence is at an all time high figure. A nation that was thrown into war has unfortunately owned the idea and is now ready to kill anyone in the name in which it was asked by Americans to fight Russia, the religion. Not only ready to kill, they are out there looking for someone to kill, lynching people on street, killing and burning dead bodies of pickpockets, making their videos with cell phones and uploading on youtube. Many times it is proved afterwards that the killed was not guilty at all and the reason behind the call was a financial dispute. Violence has become the general attitude of a third generation Pakistani. Although they owe it most to external forces exploiting them, yet they are themselves to be blamed too. External influences can be explained on the basis of various conspiracy theories but without getting indulged in such plots which can be easily disputed I come to the straight question, who contributed the most, to what our generation is today?

Lack of democratic culture and periods of dictatorship have kept people’s mindset uncertain. Self imposed saviors injected whatever suited them which slowly and gradually pushed the country away from the vision of its founder. Since religion has been something where people are easy to blackmail, it has been the key point in dictators’ strategies. Even if we don’t go beyond 1971, we can say that the idea of an Islamic republic was being sidelined by the idea of a theocratic state. Fact is that it is still not decided what the founders wanted to make out of this state.

Dictators are opportunists who exploit the weak points of society in order to propagate their rule. Ours have been especially lucky to have found favorable international culture too. Zia, for example, benefitted from this religious fervor of people of Pakistan and found American favors for the same too, in order to fight in Afghanistan. The third generation dictator, Musharraf, on the other hand, presented himself as a liberal person who was patted by his American bosses to fight against conservatives while he himself traded with the religious alliance for endorsement of his acts. He waged war against extremist elements while keeping coalition government intact. He played with trust of many stake holders while being a front man of US.I wonder how compatible our dictators have been with American interests that the right man (for US) takes over even before they need him.

Politicians who belong to this generation have largely been denied any rights of representation no matter how reasonable or transparent they have been. Take for example Imran Khan, the chairman of Tehreek-e-Insaf. He can be truly stated as a third generation politician with no record of corruption and family politics whatsoever but his generation did not vote for him, rather they have continued to vote in the name of tribes, clans or the mainstream (read: feudal and corrupt) politicians. Imran Khan might have been a bad politician, a confused leader or an immature policy maker, yet such a stark rejection of a sincere person speaks volumes about the mindset of masses. Where people even voted for the religious alliances and got an even worse results than the politicians, he should have been given a bit more respect.

Although I must appreciate this generation for liberating media and judiciary from various influences, a real change is still out of sight. The independence of media has, in a sense, polarized the masses, making visible divisions between the liberal and conservative forces, highlighted by loud mourning and glamorization of assassination of Governor Taseer going side by side.    

Governor Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard. Aside from discussing the delicacies of nature of punishment that should be given to someone who commits blasphemy, I would rather look upon this incident as a case study into the mindset of general public, or for that matter, third generation Pakistanis.

I hardly liked him as a politician. I would loudly say that he was not at his best when he confronted the court decision under the blasphemy law or the law itself, but that doesn’t mean that his murderer shouldn’t be showered with rose petals too. While honoring such people our generation has forgetten the legacy of our own faith. Knowing very well that the blasphemy law is dearly guarded in the Pakistan Penal Code and there hasn’t been any change in it, no one can justify a murder, neither glorification of the one who carried it out. But it only shows the mindset of the masses. 

Political and regional divisions are much deeper now. Balochistan and Sind provinces are not satisfied with the center and although the sitting government comes largely from Sindh, the military establishment hasn't given away anything. Smaller political parties are encouraged to take pro-military stances and many a times media persons are not difficult to find for the same purpose.

Third generation of Pakistan shares the credit of inventing Missed Call following their ancestors’ inventions of Wheel and Zero. They have the courage to laugh at themselves as text messaging about various issues is considered a good time pass. Latest education is in fashion and Pakistan has become a big market for electronics’ utilization. They have fought inundations, earth quakes, suicide bombings and massive displacements in military operations. They lost the sports glory shared with the previous generation of winning world honors in Cricket Hockey Squash and Snooker, yet there have been many sportsmen and women of extraordinary talent. And the count goes on as we still have 12 years more for them to prove their worth. Religious issues aside, political conflicts should be resolved and a good democratic Pakistan should be handed over to next generation which will take over in 2022.

It is difficult to see a society out of international context. Unfortunately, the current has been an era of violence and wars. When superpowers of the world are engaged in wars in neighborhood, one can hardly expect peace within. Our place has become a home of spies and conspiracies. Despite all this the legacy of violence could have been erased, had there been a serious effort to take every section of the society on board while formulating political policies and educational curricula. Unfortunately this hasn’t been the case till now and this is going to persist for at least rest of the duration of this generation’s representation. So, I hope for a change towards more tolerance and homogeneity among religions and provinces and look forward to the fourth generation Pakistanis to do this job.